Today at HuffPo, Radley Balko has a piece about a small New Hampshire town’s fight over whether or not they need a tank. Well, it’s not exactly a tank, but it’s pretty freakin close. And oddly, many of the residents of this town of less than 25,000 think it an unnecessary addition to their local police force.
It turns out that the DHS has been giving out billions in federal grant monies to help local law enforcement militarize around the country. Why would any police department go without one of these badass toys?
“Because it’s wasteful and prone to abuse,” my older, more practical, freedom-loving self might say. And my younger, Texan-American boy side might respond, “but it’s pretty badass.” I can’t seem to agree with myself, even knowing that one of these beasts rests somewhere in my backyard in the hands of an oppressive overzealous police organization.
A while back, this admittedly-awesome-looking piece of $285,000 machinery was sitting by the volunteer fire station near my house, opened-up and on-display for the neighborhood passers by.
I haven’t posted about it until now, partially because of obvious internal conflict. On one side you have the inner child whose response to this machine can be summed up in one word: AWESOME! On the other side, there is the grown-up who can’t help but worry about the many unnecessary ways in which this thing might be put to use by the APD.
Here is a short excerpt from the conversation I continue to have with myself on the issue:
Grown-up Shawn: There is no way that Arlington PD needs this thing. When they first proposed buying it, the budget allocation listed the fuel expense as negligible since the vehicle would so be used so infrequently. Even the excited-looking fatigue-garbed young man who was showing it off at the fire department said it is extremely rare for it to be deployed.
Shawn’s Inner Child: It’s SO AWESOME! And the feds paid for it, including yearly maintenance, so it was, like, FREE.
Grown-up Shawn: I pay federal taxes, too, idiot. And “It’s AWESOME” is not really an argument. Jeremy Lin is also awesome, but I don’t want local police using him against me either. For every ounce of awesome in that machine, there is a pound of terrifying. The enemy in America’s war on drugs, or at least those most subject to becoming collateral damage, is us, American citizens just minding our business when the police crash this giant death machine through our door because someone mixed up a couple of numbers on a warrant or because we like to wind down with a little crack now and then. Either way, it’s unnecessary and dangerous.
Shawn’s Inner Child: It’s BIG and BULLETPROOF! And you can shoot GUNS out of it! What’s to argue about?
Grown-up Shawn: Ok I admit I would totally like to take it for a test drive. But again, I don’t think that means it should be sitting around waiting for some bored police to decide it doesn’t get used enough and take it out to punish litterers and answer noise complaints. I’ve heard of a time long ago when police talked to citizens and knew something about the communities they served. We should strive to return to that rather than reinforce local police’s misplaced notion of soldierhood by giving them giant scary war toys to complement their unsettling amount of mostly unchecked authority. Also, there are already plenty of soldiers in the Arlington area. I think they’re called . . .um, what is it? . . . OH YEAH! They’re called soldiers. There is no shortage of real military around if the shit ever really hits the fan.
Shawn’s Inner Child: Did I mention that it’s AWESOME?!?
I’ll stop there, but the internal dialogue goes on and on. There are obviously good points being made on both sides. But since I can’t take the thing for a test drive, I am declaring grown-up me the winner (at least as of the time of this post.) These things are unnecessary and downright scary in the hands of people who are known to abuse power like it was an innocent citizen loitering in a “high crime” neighborhood.
But I’d still like to drive one.